I have come to understand that life cannot simply be categorised into either ‘bad’ or ‘good’ moments; nor, indeed, can people.
Life, instead, is an intriguing, varied, beautiful, experience.
People, instead, are complex, fascinating, bewitching stories.
I try, therefore, not to categorise my experiences and interactions; to not compartmentalise my existence into convenient little boxes of pre-determined worth.
We should not discredit something just because it didn’t meet the criteria to go in the ‘good’ box, likewise we should not be overzealous about things that avoided the ‘bad’ box… No! Rip the boxes up, throw them out the window! Because every single moment of our bizarre existence- good, bad, ugly- has immense inherent riches, riches that cannot be neatly quantified.
Life, after all, is anything but neat. And it is definitely not quantifiable.
Do I mean to say life is one big grey area? Well, it is certainly not black and white, and if you approach it in that way you will miss all the glorious hues of curiosity, every dazzling shade of peculiar, every rich blush of passion, and every melancholy tinge of sentiment.
I prefer to think of life as multicoloured; with each and every situation we find ourselves in, whether superficially pleasing or otherwise, as having immense value and importance. Each moment beautiful in its own way, even the ‘bad’ ones. Specifically the bad ones.
And as soon as you start thinking that way, you will see silver linings everywhere. You will feel the worth of moments that challenge you, you will see the value in the people that vex you, and you will taste the beauty that froths at the mouth of life.
Life… is a rich EXPERIENCE.
And moving to Port Hedland… was an experience. A glorious one.
And which glorious shade of intriguing was this adventure? Hmmm, definitely Red. The intensity, the outback, the heat, the sunburn, the dust, the nudity, the stories, the passion of the punters… and, oh, Granny blushed, the language!
So here’s the story. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work in a country tavern in REAL Australia, I’m about to tell you…
I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I realised, hmmm, this place is a bit strange.
It could have been when I was waiting for my flight, and casually noticed I had only tattooed meat stacks in fluorescent uniforms for company, not so subtly eyeballing me.
It could have been when an Aboriginal child, whom I can only describe as severely ADHD, was sat next to me despite the empty plane, and felt the need to hit his plastic bottle against his arm rest for the entire flight.
Or it could have been when I flew in, and saw the vast expanses of red nothingness beneath me; the mining works and railroads like deep scars, open wounds snaking across the plains. Peculiar.
Perhaps, even, it was when I arrived at the airport; the blistering heat, the ubiquitous yellow workers uniforms, the trucks, the dust, the flies, the nothingness. The having to call the pub when, naturally, they forgot to pick me up, and hearing an enormous, very Australian ‘ahhh sh*t mate’ in the background. Absolute textbook.
Ooooohh, this is gonna be weeeeird, I thought; as an amused curiosity, a morbid comical intrigue, overcame me.
Or maybe it was the staff house. ‘Mess’ does not cover it. Piles of washing up, flies, horrible metal grates on windows, dirt everywhere, a peculiar smell. Perhaps it was having to get my future room-mate out of bed in her knickers to let me in, because no one had told her I was coming, and stand there guiltily while she moved all her stuff to make room for me.
Perhaps it was the moment they told me not to drink the tap water because it would give me kidney stones. Or perhaps the moment someone explained the reason for the high security of our house, namely the regular and violent aboriginal fights in our street.
Perhaps it was when I learned the staff house was a half hour walk away from work, and it is unsafe to walk alone at night.
Or, and this is what I think, it was the moment I first clapped eyes on the place. Outside; a squat, ugly and dingy looking box, the same metal grates on every opening. Curious.
A sign in the entrance saying people had to wash before entering and must be dressed. Suspicious.
Inside, no windows. The smell of dust and sweat. A sea of yellow uniforms and workers boots. Deafening roar of beered up beef-cakes.
A small blonde girl in a barely-there fairy outfit was chasing a grown man in yellow uniform, around the room with a feather duster; the men in the room following the delightful bounce of her boobs and ass with fevered delight. Much screaming and swearing. Peculiar.
What have I come to, I thought with sinking despair. And, panic, do I have to wear that?!
I would later learn, these were skimpies- girls earning an obscene amount of money to work in their underwear. And I do mean obscene.
But I also do mean, underwear. Actually, even that’s generous- dental floss is a more apt description. I have seen unholy parts of these girls.
We don’t have a licence for nipples. I kid you not, that’s an actual thing. Many a time I heard, ‘sh!t, the police are coming, put yer tits away, doll!’.
But, nip slips mean good tips, so the nipples did slipple… usually in my face as I was trying to pull the perfect pint. If I didn’t take a nipple to the face, I certainly took it to the hand- a couple of the girls had fakies and were very keen for me to have a squeeze “feels real, ay babe?”.
Too much boob.
So I had arrived at a very strange- albeit intriguing- place and I couldn’t tell you when exactly that impression formed, but I knew it. It is like no place I have ever worked before, and weirdly, I’m going to both miss it and cherish the peculiar memories.
However, it was, like most worthwhile experiences, tough at first…
Sink or swim
My first problem was understanding people. These are true Australians. Whatever Australian stereotype you have, multiply it by 10, and here you have our punters.
Some speak in one long, unintelligible drawl, and they all speak in slang. Every product we sell, seems also to have a shortened name, and that takes time to learn… and it’s very embarrassing when you get it wrong.
But really, how should I know a Ted’s is actually a Toohies Extra dry? How should I know squash is actually a cloudy lemonade called Lift, and not, in fact, cordial and water? How should I know TallyHo is actually what I call Rizla? Then there’s the receptacles… middys, scooners, pots, handles… all different sizes of glass. Help!
I had much to learn.
My second problem, was pulling the perfect pint. One of the skimpies watched me try… ‘no babe, they like head on their beer here’. Okay. So then I started pulling pints with way too much head. And oh, you don’t want to mess up someone’s pint here- drinking is the religion and beer is the god. The perfect scooner is taken very seriously, and these are the type of people that will tell you when its crap… just… in infinitely more colourful language.
My third problem, was not having a list of comebacks ready. These guys are keen, and the more they drink, the keener they get. That first night I got several, naturally delightful and entirely wholesome proposals that I would struggle to repeat in polite company. A lot of these proposals charmed me with their terribleness, some made my skin crawl, and most of them just made me die a bit inside. Turns out, nothing makes you miss your wonderful, decent, loving ex-boyfriend more than sleezeballs sliming on you and old pissheads perving on you.
If I had a dollar for every time I was asked when I would be putting MY skimpy outfit on, I would be a very rich lady. If I had a dollar for very comment about my boobs or my ass, I may well be a millionaire.
But I did have a belly laugh for each one, and I’m sure my abs are tighter now.
These guys are just… INTERESTING.
Now, some of them are nice. Some of the locals I have come to know, and I do enjoy sharing tales over the bar with them. They have some incredible, hilarious stories; stories that it would be inconceivable to ever hear in my normal British, suburban, middle-class circle.
Some of them are true gents, and I will gladly chat to them for hours. They brighten up my day. Some of them tip well, openly admit they prefer us to the skimpies, and spend hours telling me I’m beautiful. Some of them, are just plain NICE, and you know they have your back 100%. Like our good friend Troy, who lent us his car for two weeks when he flew home for Christmas.
Now he may have left school at 14 because he stabbed his principle with scissors, and he may be blind in one eye and deaf in one ear from a bar fight, and he may have spent a year or two in prison… but he is genuinely (to us girls at least) one of the nicest, genuine, men I have ever met.
And that’s the beauty of life; when we meet people that challenge our preconceptions.
Having the car out here was a HUGE deal for us, especially over Christmas. It meant we had the freedom to go to the beach, drive ourselves to and from work as we pleased, and even go for a few drinks in the next town when we eventually had some time off.
Such a luxury, because Australia is just one of those places you really need a car, and without it in a place like Hedland, life can be pretty impossible.
So, there are some real diamond characters up here, make no mistake. I would even call some of them friends, so many hours have we spent talking across the bar.
But for the most part, it’s a very rough and ready place! You need to be a tough cookie, or these guys will eat you for breakfast. You need to tell them where to go when they get too full of themselves; you need to have some banter about you. Its colourful language and disgusting euphemisms all the way, its wandering eyes, occasionally hands, and dirty come-ones from people old enough to be your dad. You will hear the best, and worst, lines of your life.
Here are a few of my personal favourites…
“You need to walk away before I rape you… [later]… you know, it’s not rape if you say yes”
“What are ya doin’ later, doll?… c’mon, I’ll shout ya a Macca’s [McDonalds]!”
“So, found a boyfriend yet beautiful?”
“If you stay over, I’ll treat you to breakfast… keen arn’t ya!”
“Look at yer lovely little tits”
“Wanna go fishing, ay?”
“You dropped summit love… oh, it’s my number!”
Just to contextualise, the rape reference was a joke- it’s a bit like teenage boys at school, all egging each other on to be ridiculous. Inevitably, collecting glasses from huge tables of rowdy guys is interesting. My arm accidentally brushing theirs is probably the only action they’ve seen in months, so it’s no wonder they’re all like dogs on heat.
You can taste the testosterone.
I once ate a banana in view of punters, completely innocently, and caused somewhat of an uproar. Oh my.
So you see, it’s all very amusing. Actually, it’s hysterically funny. It’s a sink or swim kinda place, and once you can swim (took me a few days, granted), you will learn to laugh.
And oh, how we have laughed! We make our own fun- most of it silly. Here is my friend Aline and I both inside our bouncer’s t-shirt.
There is always something (or someone) to laugh at/with.
This place! These people! What an experience. No two nights are the same. There are always stories.
Usually, an average conversation will be one of the burly’s telling me what his tattoos mean, or rather, who they mean. ‘This is my ex-wife…. And this is my kids, I don’t see them anymore’… ‘and this is from prison’… ‘And this is some Asian s*** from Bali, f*** knows what the c*** wrote’… Extraordinary.
Then there’s the bikers, some of them with swastika rings who want to talk to my German friend about Hitler… cringe…
And then there’s the “speak up doll, I’m deaf in this ear… from a bar fight, ay”
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Some nights, you have to square up to a huge, drunken, bleary eyed, tattooed, meat-stack of a hardened outback Ozzie… and tell him he can’t have anymore to drink and must leave. You must stand your ground. Sometimes, I’ve physically had to take them by the elbow, little old me, and walk them out… And I can feel the rest of the guys at the bar stiffen, ready to jump to my aid if I’m not listened to. And that’s the worst possible thing. See for all their banter and come one’s, they are fiercely protective of us. If anyone laid a finger on one of us girls, it would be WW3 inside the tavern! Such an interesting dynamic.
Funny thing is, they are all lovely to us. Chat up lines yes, but it’s mostly in good humour and they know, in reality, they have about as much chance as an icicle in hell. They are nothing but decent, for the most part. And they all tip us well, despite what obscenities they may have just been wittering on about.
My theory is these guys are all massive softies on the inside, and for some of them talking to us girls over the bar is a rare bit of decent, human, interaction for them. Some of them are cripplingly lonely. They sit alone at the bar, and await conversation. Its actually quite heartbreaking. We hear tales of woe, facts about illegitimate children, stories from prison, life dilemmas, and problems with the wife… And I’m sure a lot of them come just to talk to us, to have a friendly ear and a female shoulder.
I’m also sure, that some of them are chronic alcoholics. But its just the way it is here, its a way of life to come to the pub everyday.
Life is interesting, hey?
The ‘devils asshole’
The town itself is equally interesting… ahem. Most of the guys I serve beer to are utterly dumbfounded that I have found myself here… why?! They ask incredulously, then follow it up with some colourful description of the town, that I am unable to repeat. I laugh and tell them I have no idea, money? A lot of hours?
In the end I shrug and say its an experience, I will never experience anything like it ever again. They agree, with the usual healthy amount of expletives. They call this place, Hedland, the devils asshole. Then they slap each other on the back and laugh with vigour “ahhh you f***ing c***, eh!”
I am inclined to agree. About the town, that is. Here, the air smells of BO, and the sky is red with dust.
There is, quite literally, nothing of any interest here. It is not even a real town, because its population consists of workers that fly in, then fly out. They live in camps by the mining sites and couldn’t not care less about the town. There is a Coles, a Macdonalds, a Subway, a K-Mart… and then the Tavern. Oh, there is a swimming pool too.
But it’s not so much a lack of facilities that make this place so terrible… it’s just a nothing sort of place. Its dusty, red, blistering hot, and no one wants to be here, except the flies, who thrive. There is a bit of a problem in town with the aboriginal population too, as is often the way in rural places in Australia. Indeed, it is so far removed from the tourist track that I can only conclude this is ‘real’ Australia. It doesn’t get much worse than this, I am informed every night by the same guys. Ultimately though, you just have to laugh.
And so I do, frequently. I laugh when feral dogs run through town, I laugh when I drive past the ‘outdoor gyms’ sitting unused in the 40c degree heat, I laugh when the smell of BO suffocates me at the supermarket, I laugh every time I padlock our excessively enormous front gate, I laugh as I spend ten bucks on water each week, and I laugh incredulously when I have to throw all the bottles in landfill because they ‘don’t recycle here’, not even the tons of bottles we get through at work. What an utterly preposterous, ludicrous, baffling place. And my, what an experience to live here!
You make your own fun
I make it sound all doom and gloom though don’t I? But its not, I’ve genuinely got so much out of this experience, and I’m so glad I came up here to do this. I’ve barely stopped laughing, quite aside from the fact I’ve made $5k in a month!
So what have been the highlights?
Naturally, Christmas day on the beach was a highpoint for me, having never ever done that before- my first Christmas south of the equator!
Actually, the entire run up to Christmas at work was pretty fun!
We played dress up!
And we got a huge box of Christmas decorations out and went a bit wild
Christmas also meant my first alcoholic drink in six months, having given my body a rest for half a year to try and overcome my bad relationship (namely vomiting after one or two beers) with alcohol.
Verdict? Meh. Not so great. Actually, I haven’t missed it all that much, and I feel much healthier (so does my bank balance) so perhaps thats it for me and drinking for a while (16 year old me would be horrified, hey?).
New Years eve we miraculously got the night off, and went out and had fun!
We danced all night under the stars, then I sat alone with a cup of tea and a giant sandwhich and I watched the sunrise on the first day of a whole new year, my favourite tunes playing quietly, thinking… yeah, life is good.
Moments of pure contentment like that are special, who knew I could find one in a place like this?
Dont you love it when life surprises you, when beauty sneaks up on you?
Then there was the tropical cyclone, excitement!
Another highlight was of course getting lent a car by Troy and being able to visit the beach on days off.
Tan time! Delicious.
Complete with crocodiles! Yes, I still went swimming, albeit cautiously.
The other fun times at work are usually after closing time, when lock-ins occur and we all have a bit of down (or up!) time. The skimpies usually feature highly at this hour, boobs and bums all over the place, but I’ll tell you what, they’re good fun!
Another notable highlight was the day I dropped Troy home and came in to see his creatures!
Naturally, much banter was had the next day when Troy told the entire pub he took me home and I held his snake.
Thats pretty in line with my sense of humour, I’m not gonna lie.
And would you believe it, on some of my long, sweaty walks between home and work, I’ve even seen the beauty in the devil’s asshole:
So there you have it. Its been quite the experience!
And I suppose we’ve’ve established, if nothing else, that I’m one sandwich short of a picnic for being here. A rich picnic though- I’ve been saving like mad (shock) and now I have enough to really begin my meanderings.
Hard work pays off, right?
Would you be surprised though, to learn that I spontaneously quit this job to go work on a goat farm? I start tomorrow. Ha!
I’m packed, I’m ready, I’ve worked my last shift… all that remains now is a night of dancing under the stars with my bar family here, to celebrate/commiserate my departure.
I’m gonna miss these crazy folk!
My verdict? What an EXPERIENCE. And that, dear friends, is exactly why I travel.